My recent vacation to Samosir Island had been a short one. It was meant to be a reunion. My friend from Canada was coming to Indonesia for a holiday. She, my other friend from Medan area, and myself had not been seeing each other for 9 years (although we keep updating each other on WhatsApp, emails, phone calls, or even Skype calls) and we wanted to meet somewhere.
I was living in Duri, small area three hours from Pekanbaru (capital city of Riau Province in Sumatera Island), and my friend were born Pekanbaru and the other one is living in Medan Area so we thought that going to Samosir Island was a great idea. Tow out of three of us had not been to Samosir, although one of them had been there myriad time. It was great, because at least one of us could be guide for all of us.
It was a very short trip for such a big and beautiful area, so although we made seeing the most amazing ones, I felt like was not even close to enough. We decided only for the weekend because we already have our own plans, and that was it. So, the title for this post should be “How to NOT explore Samosir Island and Lake Toba in ONLY 2 days” – since it’s certainly won’t be enough.
A bit of a fact about Samosir Island, is that it's an island in the middle of Toba Lake. It is located in North Sumatera Province in the Island of Sumatera, Indonesia on 1000m above sea level. The island was formed around 75,000 years ago during volcanic eruption with the area of 630 square kilometers. The island is inhabited by Batak ethnic group. It’s one of the most favourite destination in North Sumatera for tourism, and close to Capital City Medan.
So I will tell how it was played out on two days, and I will give tips or alternate narrative on how I would think we should do if we were given more time (reasonable one) to re-do Samosir Island. First, here’s the rough route that we took using rented car, started from Medan’s Kualanamu International Airport and back to the airport again. From Ajibata ferry port, we used Ferry to cross over the lake, but here in the google map, there’s no ferry option. Instead, it gives the land route that pass Sitorang and Dolok Sangul. It was one alternative though, if we don’t want to take the Ferry to cross over.
This was Friday, when I departed from Pekanbaru Airport to Medan’s Kualanamu International Airport, and I didn’t stay the night in Medan, since the route that I would take was east, while Medan was on our west. I Stayed on Wing Hotel instead, near Kualanamu Airport. The hotel offered free transport to and from the airport. The room was spacious and clean, also strategically located in the Hub Market, where they sell snack and traditional food from Medan Area. So, you don’t have to go all the way to Medan if you want to buy famous or traditional snack/cake (Bika Ambon Zulaikha, Bolu Meranti, Durian Pancake, etc)
Since we tried to catch the 11:00 Ferry, we departed at 6 am after having breakfast at the hotel. We rented a car with a driver, whom was my friend’s colleague and have travelled around the area so many times. It was nice to have a familiar driver among us.
The journey from the hotel to the Ajibata ferry Port takes about 4-5 hours, so we arrived around 11:00, only to find that we were about 100th –ish car that were on queue to board the Ferry. It was still considered high season on January 6th and we were aware about that, but we just did not believe that the queue was that long! We no longer bought the ticket on the counter, the ticket guy was patrolling about the end of the queue and we bought it from the guy instead (it was that long!).
My friend said that she was never got into queue this long before in Ajibata, but her previous trips were outside high season though. Usually only few cars on queue and she always boards on the first batch of the queue. So my tips here would be not to visit the island during high season. Or, take the road as an alternative instead of going by the ferry.
The ferry that carries the car runs five time daily (see schedule below), and costs about 115,000 IDR per car and the journey takes about 1 hour. There are two boats and each can carry as many as 35-30 cars. So based on our calculation, if the we were on 100th on the line, we would depart in the afternoon around 4 pm and that would a waste of time. So, we decided to take passenger ferry (the ferry that takes only people, no vehicle – you may find motorcycle was allowed as well) although it was already 13:30 pm (we had been waiting for about 2 hours by then).
The passenger ferry port was separated about 1 km away, and that’s where we went. The passenger ferry departs when it’s full, and it costs IDR 8,000 per person. There were several boats out there in the port with different destinations, so make sure you’re on the boat that’s heading to Tomok. We departed at about 2 pm in the afternoon.
The boat was quite packed, I didn't know if that’s the case in the low season. But make sure you’re checking out the top deck of the boat, the view is unparalleled. On a bright daylight, it can be scorching hot and so windy. Make sure you have sunscreen applied as well as hat and sunglass.
View of the Lake Toba from the Boat
After one hour ferry ride, we arrived at Tomok port at about 15:30pm. We turned left on the direction of the market. We passed the Indomaret to buy ice cream, before we went to the traditional market. I love everything the traditional market has to offer, what I despise is bargaining though. I have never been such a bargainer and I would never be. Thankfully I wasn’t alone, I was with my friend who is such a good bargainer. I got my first Ulos Cloth (Batak Traditional cloth) here and it has such a beautiful pattern and color.
After going to the market, we stopped by Batak Museum, where traditional Batak house was on display. We usually call it Rumah Bolon (rumah means house in Indonesia), and then passed by the Tomb of Sidabutar King until it was 5:30 pm. Our driver called us to inform that he already departed the ferry and on his way to Tomok. We met on Tomok Ferry Port at 6pm and heading to our accommodation for the night in Hotel Tuk-tuk Timbul.
The hotel has both traditional and modern bungalows and can accommodate those who travel with families and friends. It also provides car rental. The hotel also has restaurant with local and international menu, and both comes with reasonable price. Since it was too late, we decided to eat in the Hotel’s restaurant instead.
In summary, what we visited in Day 1 are: Tomok traditional market, Ferry ride from Ajibata to Tomok in Lake Toba, Tomok Traditional Market, Tomb of Sidabutar King, and Tomok Batak Museum.
What could have done differently:
This is the day when we should go back to our original place (crazy, right?). Everything went so fast and it wasn’t feel long enough. But everything had been decided, so we modified our itinerary so that we can still arrive at Kualanamu airport by 4 pm (that’s when my flight depart to Pekanbaru). In order to meet our new itinerary, we needed to leave the hotel as earliest as possible. We left the Hotel at 4:30 am in the morning to catch Holbung for Sunrise (since we missed it for sunset the other day).
We arrived at Holbung Hill just in time to catch the sunrise. I was totally blown away by its beauty. The hills that from far away looked small and unreachable suddenly emerge above my feet, so green and alive exposed by the sunrise, and the view to the Lake Toba was so clear and grand. Few tents of the overnight tourist fulfill the nearest hill to the entrance on the hope to catch the sunrise as golden as it was. As I look back to that day, I think this place is my favourite spot in the journey so far. As I quoted my friend, the hills were like those in Teletubbies movie, and I could not agree more.
Some scenery at Holbung Hill
As we rallied with time, we did not have that luxury to explore all the ups and downs of the hills. My friend had to drag me out of Holbung Hill and I was the last one leaving that place. It was only 1 hour while i thought it worth 3 hours exploration time to get different angles to enjoy the scenery.
After Holbung Hill, we went to Efrata waterfall. We were the first visitor to arrive. The waterfall is about 10-15 meters high. At that time the wind blowed to our direction, bringing the water to incoming walkway, so I did not dare aiming my camera to the waterfall. I did try sneaking it out once and got one picture out of it. After about 15 minutes, we went back to our car to continue the journey
After Efrata waterfall, we headed to Tele tower (Menara Tele). This is the place to get a view of all Lake Toba. This Tele point of view also has restaurants and small stores for tourist. When we arrived at Tele, the sun was blinding and we decided to not spending a lot of time there since it was too bright to take any decent photograph, so we moved on to next destination: Sipiso-piso Waterfall.
Efrata Waterfall is incomparable to Sipiso-piso Waterfall. Sipiso-piso Waterfall is 120 meter high and located at the northern tip of the Lake Toba Caldera and it’s the highest waterfall in Indonesia. To dramatise the situation here, we only spent 15 minutes in the lake. There’s no time left if we wanted to get to the airport on time (sigh). So we parked on the point of view where we can see the waterfall from the above, but we didn't go down. On the picture above, can you spot the rainbow?
In summary, what we visited in Day 2 are: Holbung Hill, Efrata Waterfall, Tele Point of View, and Sipiso-piso Waterfall
What could have done differently:
From Sipiso-piso waterfall, we went straight to the airport and got there within 4 hours, and we took toll as well. Only once did we stop by to bought Durian (both of my friends are a fan of Durian). While waiting for them eating durian, i wandered to the Rubber Tree Forest instead. Along the way to and from Samosir Island, we were buoyed by Palm Tree Forest, Pine Tree Forest and Rubber Tree Forest. The forests were company and government-owned land and they were beautiful.
I finally arrived at the Kualanamu Airport around 3:30 pm. And the good news was the plane was delayed. It wasn't surprised, since Lion Air is famous for its delays. I got delayed one hour on my flight from Pekanbaru to Kualanamu, and i got delayed 1,5 hour on my flight back from Kualanamu to Pekanbaru. But it didn't matter since i really enjoyed that short trip and i would redo it all over again and spend more time in Holbung Hill and Sipiso-piso Waterfall.
With listed places to Visit, i guess 3 days (exclude travel from and to your original place) would sufficient. So what are you waiting for? Book your flight and pack your bag ;) adventures are awaits.